The Limerick Navigation

This page provides an overview of the Limerick Navigation, which linked the city of Limerick (and thus the estuary of the River Shannon) to Lough Derg and the rest of the Shannon Navigation upstream of Killaloe. Pages to be developed on aspects of the navigatiion will be linked to this page.

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Ireland, here is a map produced by the Directors General of Inland Navigation in 1828 to show the, er, roads they managed. I have annotated it to show points of interest, including directions from Ireland to Liverpool and to the still-vexed Bermoothes.

DGIN map of Ireland

Here is a close-up from the Ordnance Survey map of ~1840. As the Shannon is a sensible river, it flows (roughly) from north to south, which is very convenient. Lough Derg is a large lake (by Irish standards), the largest on the Shannon; you can see part of it at the top of the map. Killaloe is a town just downriver of the lake. Limerick is a city at the head of the Shannon Estuary. The Limerick Navigation joined the two places.

The Limerick Navigation

The Limerick Navigation was in five sections. Starting from the upstream end, they were:

  • a canal bypassing rapids at Killaloe and some distance downstream. This canal had three locks
  • a river navigation section, on the Shannon itself, from the lowest lock on the Killaloe canal through O’Briensbridge to Errina
  • a second canal from Errina to Plassey, with six locks
  • a river navigation section from Plassey
  • a third canal leading to the canal harbour in Limerick. This canal had one lock about half way along; a second lock allowed boats out of the harbour on to the Abbey River and thus provided access to Limerick Dock and the Shannon Estuary. This canal bypassed rapids at Corbally.

The details shown below are taken from A New Oarsman’s Guide to the Rivers and Canals of Great Britain and Ireland edited by F E Prothero and W A Clark, published by George Philip & Son, London, for the Cruising Club in 1896. Prothero and Clark measured distances from the head of Lough Allen, the northernmost lake on the River Shannon. The extracts from OSI maps are by kind permission of Ordnance Survey Ireland.

The canal at Killaloe

At 127 miles from the head of Lough Allen is Ballyvally House (on the right). Prothero and Clark say:

Here the river leaves the lake with a strong stream. Keep near right bank, so as not to miss the entrance to the canal.

After three quarters of a mile, at Kincora (right):

Entrance to the lateral canal through a stop lock. A huge weir goes diagonally across the river, running down stream from left to right. The canal entrance on the right bank is nearly opposite the top end of the weir on the left. Below the weir, a long stretch of great cataracts.

The weir was removed after the construction of the hydroelectric power station at Ardnacrusha and its associated weir at Parteen Villa, which raised the water level and flooded an area downstream of Killaloe. It killed off the Limerick Navigation, replacing it with a new route through the power station.

The mention of a stop lock is interesting. I presume that it did not survive the post-Ardnacrusha reconfiguration, but I would like to know more about it. Note that a new stop lock has been built in the last couple of years.

At 128⅛ miles from the head of Lough Allen is Killaloe itself, with a lock at the bridge:

Shannon View Hotel. Station across the bridge. Cathedral (Church of Ireland). Beware, when landing, of swarms of gamins. It is a very pretty spot, especially as seen from the bridge.

Killaloe Lock. At the Clare end of the bridge across the Shannon.

128⅞ Clarisford House (r)
129⅛ Moy’s Lock
129⅞ Cussaun Lock
130⅛ Dorgan’s Bridge. Here the canal enters the river.

The river section through O’Briensbridge

On this second section, Prothero and Clark list:

131⅜ Bannow Island
132½ Inishlosky Island
133¾ O’Brien’s Bridge
134⅞ Mona Lodge (l). On the right bank opposite the canal recommences, avoiding the falls of Castle Connell.

The canal from Errina to Plassey

The canal has straight sections joined by fairly smooth curves. Prothero and Clark give the details:

136⅜ Erinagh Lock
136⅝ Monaskeha Lock
136⅞ Cloonlara Lock
138    Newtown Lock
139¾ Gilloge Lock
140½ Plassy Lock. 150 yards below, at Plassy Bridge, the canal re-enters the river for a mile.

The next map shows two sections of the navigation, the one-mile river section and the final canal section.

Plassey to Limerick

Prothero and Clark say:

141⅝ Canal begins again on l bank below the Waterworks.

142⅛ Park Lock
142⅝ Limerick Lock. Locks out into the Abbey River branch of the Shannon.


Finally, they give some details about Limerick:

142¾ Baal’s Bridge
142⅞ New Bridge
143    Wellesley Bridge. Limerick. Cruise’s Hotel. One long handsome street, George Street; Castle; Cathedral.

At spring tides there is 19 feet of water at the Limerick quays (high water 4¼ hours after London Bridge). The river, which is very large here, widens out into an estuary a few miles further down. It is best seen by taking the steamer to Kilrush, a distance of 43 miles.

Pages will be added about sections and features of the Limerick Navigation. Here are some to be going on with:

The locks on the Limerick Navigation


The bridge at O’Briensbridge

The barge at Plassey

The floods of November 2009 provided an opportunity to see the sorts of water levels that the navigation might have had before Ardnacrusha was built.

The upper end

The lower end

The tidal section

Floods are not new to Limerick: here is an account of the floods of 1850.

There are some photos of parts of the old Limerick Navigation and the newer Parteen Villa Weir here. You can follow the Inland Waterways Protection Society’s walk along the Limerick Navigation (as much as is accessible) here, starting about two thirds of the way down the page, with a bonus visit to the Eglinton and Cong Canals.

And here is the cover page for a section showing why the Park Canal should not be restored to navigability.

12 responses to “The Limerick Navigation

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  5. hi I enjoyed the pages on the limerick to killaloe canal ; but a better map showing an over view of the old canal; and the new route through ardnacrusha power station , should be added ;as the whole route is complex. for people who don’t know the area/

  6. You’re quite right. The problem is that I have copyright approval only to use sections of the historic OSI maps, not the modern ones, so I have access to nothing that shows both the old and the new. I don’t (as far as I know) use materials in breach of copyright. But still, I’ll see what I can come up with. bjg

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